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Is your gym making you weak?

Big thanks to our guest blogger this week, Joanna Sapir, founder and owner of Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning, a fitness and athletic training facility that provides personal training, group training, and customized strength and conditioning programs to help people live stronger, healthier, and larger lives.

As a Three Leaves subscriber, I know you pay attention to nutrition – which is a foundational piece of your health.

But how is your fitness? Are you strong? Capable? Able to get out into the world and physically take on everything you need or want to?

Most people, when they decide to get fit, join a gym.

If you caught that NPR piece on how the mainstream big-box gyms make their money, you know they rely on thousands of people joining each location, but never actually showing up. The gyms get the cash, and it makes no difference to them whether the clients ever actually use their gym memberships. In fact, as that Planet Money piece notes, they don’t actually want the clients to use the gym. What a system.

At Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning, the gym I own, we operate with a totally different model, one that is based on getting clients the fitness, weight loss, and health RESULTS they are seeking. I’m going to share with you how you can get results too.

First, you need to identify your specific health and fitness goals. What does being healthy or fit mean to you? What exactly do you want to achieve? Fat loss? Increased energy? Speed on the field or court? There are no right or wrong answers.

Write down your health and fitness goals and share them with a friend. Then ask yourself: on a scale of 1-10, how important is it to you to reach these goals? If you rate yourself at least 8 or above, then read on. (If not, you should spend some time identifying what is more important to you and spend your time on those things!)

If you’re serious about making changes to your fitness, health, or body composition, here are 5 steps for success:

1. Block the time.

If your fitness, health, or body composition goals are important to you, then you need to block the time for training in your schedule. There should be no question of whether you’re going to workout today or any day…you need to plan and know your workout days and your rest days. Training sessions go in your calendar, and nothing bumps them out of the way but perhaps a family emergency.

You really only need to train 3 days a week for about an hour. A rest day in between workout days is good, so something like Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday is great. That’s all you need to start. Just 3 days for about an hour each day.

(For further reading: Our 10 Principles for SRSC Member Success)

2. Do the right exercises.

You should be doing full body, compound movements. Forget the machines, and move the way your body was designed to move in real life. Do full range-of-motion Squats, Deadlifts, and Shoulder Presses as a basic routine. If you’re more advanced, add some explosive power movements like Push Press and Power Cleans. Accessorize with Pull Ups, Dips, and Glute Ham Raises. Voila. Now you’ve got a stronger, more functional, and better-looking body.

Please don’t spend an hour on the treadmill or elliptical. The recommendations that started in the 80’s to do hours of ‘cardio’ went hand-in-hand with the recommendations to each a no-fat or low-fat diet – and as a Three Leaves reader, you already know the fallacy there and the resulting obesity epidemic in this country! Focusing exclusively on steady-state aerobic training will not get you healthier or leaner in the long run. Chronic cardio training is catabolic (it breaks down muscle, not just fast), encourages the body to store fat for energy, and is taxing to the body.

Strength Training should be the basis for your workouts. Increasing your lean muscle mass will raise your resting metabolic rate; that is, with more muscle, your body burns more calories while doing nothing – so strength training is how you can lean and ‘toned’ if that’s what you're after. Perhaps more import, getting stronger will help you be more capable in the world.

Your heart rate will rise even during Strength Training. But if you’re craving more of that out-of-breath feeling, go outside and walk, jog, run, sprint, or any combination of those for 15-20 minutes. Or, do your strength training faster.

3. Eat these foods and ditch these others.

You already know this, but I’ll state it clearly anyway: a good nutritional program should be centered around eating real food. Fad diets, crash diets, miracle pills and meal-replacement shakes are not part of a balanced, sustainable path towards improved health and fitness. Instead, we encourage you to eat high quality (pastured) meat, wild seafood and eggs, plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, and healthy sources of dietary fats – it’s that simple. Eat good food, put your meals together in a way that is simple, balanced and sustainable (we’ll show you how), and experience all of the tangible benefits that come from a nutritional plan designed to help you create a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, calm systemic inflammation and put an end to unhealthy cravings, habits, and relationships with food.

Sorry, but ‘everything in moderation’ is just not an effective tool to meet specific health or weight loss goals. And although restricting calories works as a short-term solution for some people, it is not an effective long-term strategy. You need to focus on food quality and determine which foods to eat, and which foods to ditch. The fact is, a food either supports or hinders your health, aesthetic, or performance goals. You need to learn what foods will give you the results you’re looking for, and which do not.

4. Rest and Recover

Take care of your body with massage, chiropractic, or other bodywork. Go for a walk without your phone. Lie in the sun and get some Vitamin D. Turn off all electronics an hour before bed, and get at least eight hours of sleep each night. And take rest days! Train hard, and then recover – that’s how you get fitter, not by training all the time. Your body and brain must have downtime from the stresses of life in order to adapt, grow, and thrive in 2015.

(For further reading, check out Whole9’s Are You Recovering, or Are You Just Resting?)

5. Have Fun!

Humans are animals and the human body is designed to move and to play. We were not meant to sit for lengthy periods, nor walk on machines with moving belts watching TV – we were meant to walk and skip, jump and bounce, run and throw, push and pull, fall and get up. We were meant to move our bodies frequently and in many different ways. Watch little kids on a playground or at the beach or in the woods and you’ll see how humans.

Your exercise program should bring you pleasure in some way, and if you’re not enjoying it at all, it’s not the right program for you.

(For further reading: Get Outside and Play!)

We would be happy to help you get started on these steps, if you’re looking for tools and guidance for how to live a stronger, healthier and larger life. If you’re interested in our services or would like to set up a consultation, you can reach us at (707) 542-7725.

Joanna Sapir is the founder and owner of Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning, a fitness and athletic training facility that provides personal training, group training, and customized strength and conditioning programs to help people live stronger, healthier, and larger lives. Find us at

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